Skywatchers thrilled about brighest comet in years
All photos by Daniel McVey
FRISCO — Comet Pan-STARRS, a first-time visitor to the inner solar system, has survived its close encounter with the sun and is becoming one of the brightest comets in recent years, according to skywatchers — and local astrophotographer Daniel McVey captured the celestial visitor in a series of evening shots in northern Summit County. Visit McVey’s website for more night sky and landscape photography.
According to NASA, Pan-STARRS is now visible to some observers without a telescope, although McVey said he couldn’t see it without the help of his telephoto lens from his vantage point.
Finding the comet can be a challenge in the mountains. You have to find the right spot with a low western horizon, McVey said.
“Look to the West at about 8 p.m. slightly to the right of where the glow of the sunset remains,” he said. For the past couple of nights, the comet has been near the constellation Aries, but is climbing higher in the sky to the northwest, toward Andromeda, he added.
McVey’s shots were taken with a 50 mm wide-angle and 100-400 mm telephoto, with aperture settings of f4.5 to f5.6 and ISO settings between 1600 and 6400.
The comet is named for the telescope it was discovered with in June 2011 by astronomers atop the Haleakala volcano in Hawaii. It originated in the Oort cloud, a deep space reservoir of comets far beyond the orbit of Pluto. Because Comet PanSTARRs is cruising through the solar system for the first time, its potential brightness and ability to withstand solar heating was unknown, according to a NASA website on Pan-STARRS.
According to astronomers, Pan-STARRS is producing more dust than an average comet, generating a bright tail that helps make it visible to observers on Earth. It’s quickly heading back out to deep space, but at the same time, it will head into darker skies, so it could be visible through the end of the month.